Oct 152014


Time and time again people express to me their feeling that if determinism is true and the “future is inevitable” due to this, that everything is “pointless”.  That for some reason us being able to freely will a change in the future implies some sort of meaningfulness that an entirely causal universe doesn’t have.

This, however, is what is called a “non-sequitur” in philosophical terms. That means the conclusion (e.g. “everything is pointless”) doesn’t follow from the premises (e.g. the universe is deterministic, the future state is a causally inevitable, etc.).

Just because the universe is deterministic, doesn’t mean that what we do is futile. In this earlier infographic I stressed the differences between fatalism and determinism. Both fatalism and determinism are incompatible with free will, but only one has a reasoned foundation. And only one is “futile” (meaning what we think, say, or do is pointless). In the infographic I made this comparison at the end:


This distinction is extremely important. And it doesn’t just apply to “calling the doctor” but rather to the point of everything we think, say, and do…and how such actions causally lead to future outcomes. Rather than being “pointless”, our actions are very “pointed”. They are just causally pointed, which of course makes sense considering the absurdity of “uncaused pointedness”.

I’d also like to list a few common non-sequiturs (conclusions that don’t follow from determinism): Continue reading »

Oct 092014

Nope - We still believe in free will!

Recently a post came out titled “Belief in Free Will Not Threatened by Neuroscience”, first appearing on the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog, and then in Wired Magazine, written by Christian Jarrett.  Needless to say this article really does quite a job obfuscating and confusing the real “neuroscientific” case made by Sam Harris and others.

In it, and I quote directly from Wired Magazine online:

A key finding from neuroscience research over the last few decades is that non-conscious preparatory brain activity appears to precede the subjective feeling of making a decision. Some neuroscientists, like Sam Harris, have argued that this shows our sense of free will is an illusion, and that lay people would realize this too if they were given a vivid demonstration of the implications of the science (see below). Books have even started to appear with titles like My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility by Eliezer J. Sternberg.

However, in a new paper, Eddy Nahmias, Jason Shepard and Shane Reuter counter such claims. They believe that Harris and others (who they dub “willusionists”) make several unfounded assumptions about the basis of most people’s sense of free will. (bold my emphasis)

What on Earth? Sorry, Harris’s primary neuroscientific argument concludes that  “free will is an illusion” – not that our “sense of free will is an illusion”. Yes, he goes on to say that even the illusion of free will is an illusion. But Harris uses an entirely introspective argument for this, such being that, in his words, “our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us” which he elaborates on.

And I simply don’t know where he is getting that Harris or anyone else ever made this claim: “and lay people would realize this too if they were given a vivid demonstration of the implications of the science”. My challenge here is to have the person who has written this article directly quote Harris saying or suggesting such a thing. It is possible that I’ve missed it, so a quote would be nice. Also, even if they did realize it, that doesn’t imply they would drop the belief in free will based on that realization. Something Jarrett seems to be suggesting is being said as well.

In other words, Jarrett is conflating entirely different things: Continue reading »

Oct 012014

I’ve been seeing the confusion between two different “no free will” positions crop up a lot recently – Determinism and Fatalism. Needless to say these aren’t the same thing. I created this InfoGraphic as a helpful tool to help crystallize the crux of the differences between these two lines of thought.  If you find it helpful please share, spread around, or add it to your own site with a link back. Thanks – ‘Trick Slattery

DETERMINISM-VS-FATALISM-infographic If you liked this InfoGraphic and found it useful, please download and share it on your website (please link back to the original), on social media, email, etc. There is also a Dutch version here: Determinisme vs. Fatalisme InfoGraphic (DUTCH) Continue reading »

Sep 292014

Choice vs. Free ChoiceWords, words, and more words! The different ways people think about words and terms often gets in our way. A response someone might have to another who claims there is no free will is “we make choices”, as if such choice making is “free will”.

What must be understood, however, is the distinction between “making choices” and “making a free choice”. And the distinction here is very important. And the word “choice” isn’t the only word that is often conflated. Take a look at this short list for a few examples:

  • Choice vs. Free Choice
  • Will vs. Free Will
  • Agency vs. Free Agency
  • Decision vs. Free Decision

There is an extremely important distinction between each of these. Lacking free will does not mean we A) don’t make choices, B) don’t causally will, C) don’t have agency, and D) don’t make decisions. Continue reading »

Sep 262014

Spotted Unicorn and Free Will - BOTH FANTASY!

I made a digital illustration of a fantasy unicorn type creature (for the fun of it) and thought it would be fun to add a little free will silliness to it….since it is a “fantasy” scene after all. The original will eventually be going on my art website at TricksPlace.com – and it will be without the little free will creature and text bubble when I put it there. Yes, I don’t just do philosophy, I do art as well. 😉 Continue reading »

Sep 232014

Buridan's Ass - Breaking the Free Will IllusionImagine a scenario in which you open up the refrigerator door and see two different food items. In that very moment it happens to turn out that:

A) You only want one of the items


B) You desire each food item equally

In this imaginary scenario, there is nothing for B) that is weighing your decision of one food item over another food item. One isn’t more fattening than the other, one wouldn’t taste better than the other, there is no differences in texture, size, quantity, smell, or color that would make you decide on one over the other. The location of each food item is equally desirable – in other words, there is no food item sitting by the other that would cause a decision for one over the other. There is no psychological response to the one food over the other. One isn’t closer, easier to grab, and so on.

This thought experiment is similar to Buridan’s ass, a (so called) “paradox” in the philosophy of free will. Buridan’s ass, named after 14th century French philosopher Jean Buridan, addresses a hypothetical donkey who is both equally hungry as it is thirsty. And when I say “equally”, I mean absolutely equal in every way possible. The donkey is placed in the exact center-point between a hay stack and a pale of water. It has no momentum either way, equally understands the existence of both, and neither is closer than the other (which this donkey does not assess one as closer than the other in any way – even mistakenly).

As the hypothetical goes, the donkey would both die of starvation and thirst since it cannot make a rational decision to choose one or the other. Continue reading »

Sep 122014


In my book Breaking the Free Will Illusion, I have a chapter titled “Quantum Misunderstandings and Contrivances”. In it I touch upon the fact that in quantum mechanics (which addresses the smallest particles and their behavior) there are numerous “interpretations” surrounding what certain experiments show, and surrounding the mathematics used to describe this scale. These interpretations are rightly called “quantum interpretations”, and they compete with each other. Some are deterministic (meaning entirely causal), others are indeterministic (meaning some events don’t have causes), and others are agnostic on whether all events have a cause or not.

The fact of the matter is, we just don’t know which interpretation is the best model of reality. They each have their unintuitive problems. Regardless of this, I delve into why none of them can help grant free will.

One of these interpretations, however, is so un-evidentary that it really can’t be taken too seriously. Yet I’ve come across many occasion when someone will invoke this interpretation as a savior of free will.  The interpretation I’m talking about is called the many-worlds interpretation (also known as many-universes or many-histories interpretation). Though all of the interpretations are speculative, this interpretation speculates on “worlds” that are impossible to prove. A huge no-no in science.  But worse than that, not only does it not grant free will, but out of all of the processes it is the most fatalistic. Continue reading »

Sep 052014

Some people ask why free will doesn’t exist. They often don’t even know the very basics to these questions (or where to look to find answers). Point them to this InfoGraphic so they can get a quick visual snapshot (and then hopefully they will look into the matter more). Feel free to download and share this InfoGraphic (please do not alter it) on any website , social media, and so on. And please educate people in this important topic!

Why there is NO FREE WILL - InfoGraphic

Above is the official “basics” to why free will doesn’t exist. Of course the basics don’t entail all of the details, but such is a “snapshot” for why free will doesn’t exist to give newbies to the topic a “jumpstart”. It gives a quick overview of the definition of free will that is of importance, and why such ability is impossible. It explains that such is logically incompatible for both determinism and indeterminism, and the parts of the ability that are problematic. It also gives a brief summary of those huge topics that the belief in free will embeds itself into.

I give anyone permission to download, use, and share this InfoGraphic in it’s unaltered state. I’d appreciate a link back to this page or website if at all possible.

If you haven’t ordered your copy of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind, do so today! It’s in Kindle and paperback versions. And if you like what’s in it (which I think you will), I’d be grateful for a review on Amazon.com.



Sep 032014

possibility in a deterministic universe

If you don’t already know, I’m a hard incompatibilist. This means I think free will is logically incoherent in both a deterministic universe as well as an indeterministic universe. In this post, I just want to address if the universe is a “deterministic universe”, meaning entirely causal (all events have a cause), and what such would mean for the word “possibility”.

There are different branches of philosophy. One of these branches is called “epistemology” which is the branch that is concerned with the nature of knowledge. In other words, what we can know, how we can know it, and so on. Another is called “ontology” which is the branch that is concerned with existence (or “being”, “becoming”, “reality”). In other words, it addresses what exists, how it exists, if something cannot exist, and so on.

These two branches are more often conflated than not. People address epistemology when they should be addressing ontology, or ontology for epistemological usages of words. This is very problematic and causes great confusion.

To give an example of how these are used, the claim “rocks exist in the box” is an ontological claim. The claim that “a heavy box is probably filled with rocks” is epistemological. We may not know (epistemology) that the box is filled with rocks, but either they do exist (ontology) in the box or they do not. Continue reading »

Aug 202014

Free Will Illusion Fairy

Naturalism is the belief that nothing exists outside of the natural world.  Many people denote that if naturalism is true (which I believe is the case) that the laws that govern the universe are what make everything happen. That everything which happens in the universe is a physical play out through time. And that means everything single thing, including our conscious thought and decision-making. That these happenings aren’t some magical exceptions to the physics of the universe. In such a natural universe, things such as “free will” just don’t make sense. If our decisions are tied to the physical processes of the universe, then we only have a say in them in so far as the physical processes output what we will say about them. In other words, what we think, feel, say, and do are all an output of how the universe is playing out (both large scale and small scale processes).

And even if we accept that some events don’t have a cause (e.g. certain interpretations of quantum mechanics), those un-caused events are just part of the physical process that we still have no control over.

Though I agree with such analysis for various reasons, I think the incoherence of free will has a much wider reach. In other words, we don’t have to accept a naturalistic worldview to understand that free will doesn’t make any sense what-so-ever.

We just need to understand that an event (something “happening”) must either have a cause (be an output of something that already exists), or not have a cause (just happen – not the output of anything in existence). These are the only two possibilities for events. Not just “naturalistic” events, but any event. A so-called “supernatural” event simply can’t escape this dichotomy. Continue reading »